Staff Sgt. Drew Dix, U.S. Army
Medal of Honor
Chau Doc Province,
Republic of Vietnam
Jan. 31, 1968 to Feb. 1, 1968
Drew Dix, the first U.S. Army Special Forces noncommissioned officer to receive the Medal of Honor, was sent to South Vietnam as an adviser to the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). He was assigned to one of the toughest regions of the Mekong Delta: the provincial capital of Chau Doc, on the riverfront south of Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Viet Cong’s extensive use of Cambodian safe havens and the Mekong River traffic ensured the city’s strategic importance. Whoever controlled Chau Doc controlled the delta.
Dix led a provincial reconnaissance unit. PRUs were a CIA creation, combining elite strike capabilities with aggressive intelligence collection. Their mission was to capture VC leaders and thus cripple the insurgency.
Dix’s PRU was on night ambush duty when the Tet Offensive began in late January 1968 and the VC launched its assault on Chau Doc. At first thinking the bright lights and explosions were part of the lunar new year celebrations, Dix knew otherwise when he heard the dull thump of VC mortars being fired within the city. He realized he had to regain contact with his base of operations at the Embassy House and with the ARVN tactical operations center in downtown Chau Doc. Dix needed a clear line to Saigon, the large ammunition stockpile at the Embassy House, reinforcements and a secure position from which to operate. He would need as many ARVN troops as he could rally to retake the city. Dix was unaware that the 510th VC battalion had already taken much of the city and that he was substantially outnumbered. Yet he never considered withdrawing to spare his own small detachment.
Dix later said it was “a bit like Normandy” when his force returned to Chau Doc. Accompanying his raiders were four heavily armed U.S. Navy patrol boats. While the patrol boats laid down smoke and heavy machine gun fire, his men stormed ashore and quickly established a small beachhead in the center of the city. After securing the Embassy House and the ARVN TOC, Dix learned that an American nurse, Maggie Frankot, was missing and that her quarters were occupied by VC. He acted decisively, mounting machine guns on two jeeps. Through a hail of AK-47 and B-40 RPG fire, Dix’s small force fought their way to the house, killing several VC and rescuing a slightly wounded, but alive, nurse Frankot. Returning to the Embassy House, they again fought their way through the now alerted VC.
When word reached him that eight USAID workers were also trapped, Dix’s force rescued them. When he was told the VC had isolated the police headquarters, he led his troops to retake the building, then ordered the police to begin clearing the city. After identifying the key strategic points, Dix’s force recaptured the locations one by one. The VC seemed to have no idea what was hitting them. One moment, they had the city in their grasp; within hours, the ARVN was aggressively counterattacking, and that damned American and his gun jeeps were everywhere.
Dix’s pickup army ultimately drove the VC from Chau Doc, the battle reaching a climax as it surrounded the captured villa of the ARVN deputy province commander (who believed his entire family had been caught and executed). Dix’s men destroyed the remnants of the 510th VC Battalion, capturing a high-ranking VC official in the process. And they saved the ARVN commander’s wife and children. After making contact with Saigon and ensuring that his force was resupplied by paradrop, Dix reestablished South Vietnamese control of the city.
One man, one decisive leader at a crucial moment, took aggressive action and defeated a vastly superior force. But Dix’s personal courage was only part of the story: His decisive leadership had also inspired hundreds of South Vietnamese troops and police to retake their own city.
Staff Sgt. Drew Dix was awarded the Medal of Honor and a direct commission to 1st lieutenant. Retiring from the Army after 20 years, he moved to Alaska, where today he leads the state’s homeland security task force.
Originally published in the April 2008 issue of Military History. To subscribe, click here.